Ezras Noshim Society in Buenos Aires

The Ezras Noshim society in Buenos Aires was formally established in the 1920’s in order to assist women in their various struggles, especially against the Jewish white slave trade. The society and its papers, which describe its activities, are of great importance and the files are therefore consulted by many researchers studying the battle against the white slave trade as well as the history of the Jews in Argentina.
The material in this collection describes events and activities between 1913, several years before the official foundation of the Ezras Noshim society, and 1966. Most of the files (3,600) in the collection are personal files the remainder (about 290) are files of correspondence with institutions and government offices.

The personal files are in essence family files. They portray a painful picture of hardship and sometimes of strife among married couples, often involving their children as well. They present to us many of the problems faced by an immigrant society which underwent a difficult absorption, immediately after arrival in Argentina and for some years afterwards as well.
Over one third of the files contain requests of the society’s officials to interfere, assist or mediate in family disputes caused by personal or economic difficulties, by violence within families, by desertion (generally by the father) etc. The society’s staff members also advised and assisted families in cases which led to divorce.
Ezras Noshim received a variety of requests, among them from the Polish consulate in Buenos Aires, regarding abandoned wives, where the husband was usually in Argentina or in an unknown location, while his wife and children in Poland searched for him. The number of files mentioning the Polish Consul and consulate indicates that the ties with Ezras Noshim were quite close. Some of the cases lasted for several years, as can be seen from the documents and letters that accumulated in the files.
Another significant activity of the society was the treatment of requests from thousands of individuals to obtain for them two important documents: a confirmation of honesty and a permit to disembark from the ship (certificado de moralidad, y permiso de libre desembarco), without which it was impossible to enter Argentina.
Ezras Noshim also assisted hundreds of immigrant couples to obtain the documents required in order to marry (permiso de casamiento).

Because of the notoriety of the “Zvi Migdal” organization, which dealt in prostitution and the white slave trade, many people, including families of potential couples, turned to Ezras Noshim, requesting information on the moral behavior of a potential groom or even a potential bride. Surprisingly, some such requests were sent as late as 1950.
Ezras Noshim also attempted to assist couples and families who had difficulties in finding where to live because of financial or other difficulties. Many families applied to the organization for financial assistance in the forms of loans, grants or emergency assistance to the destitute. On occasion the organization found it necessary to deal with families requesting assistance to return to Poland, even as late as 1938!
About 60% of the letters, requests and recommendations were written in Spanish or a combination of Spanish and Yiddish. 33% were written in Yiddish alone, and the reminder in a variety of languages, including some Spanish and Yiddish.
The administrative files (290 in number) relating to a number of matters, contain a sizable correspondence of Dr. Halfon, for many years the moving force behind the organization, mainly on the battle against prostitution and the white slave trade. The documents, some listing names, describe the ways in which Ezras Noshim attempted to protect young women arriving from Europe in Argentina, and also depict the contacts and cooperation with other organizations. The files contain, in addition, newspaper clippings on prostitution and the battle against the white slave trade in Argentina as well as in other South American countries.

Of note is a long, detailed list – part of a comprehensive census – of tens of brothels, especially in the province of Buenos Aires, from the 1930’s, which received the euphemistic name "casas de tolerancia.
Thousands of letters were sent to Dr. Halfon from Europe, Turkey and Egypt with heart rending requests, mostly to locate family members, assist deserted wives (agunot), extend financial assistance etc. 
Some of the files bear a strictly administrative nature, relating to the activities of Ezras Noshim. They include minutes, annual reports, reports to the community and files on financial activity, bookkeeping and banks.
Many files testify to the involvement of Ezras Noshim in the life of the community, containing invitations to meetings, conferences and various activities of organizations and institutions.